By the Editor
The questionable handling of the Covid pandemic by our politicians and the unrelenting nature of the virus itself, have, as stated already on these pages, placed the 2021 piping and pipe band season in considerable jeopardy.
Scotland’s devolved administration has extended its ability to enact emergency powers until March next year and all the talk is of the new lockdown confirmed yesterday being in place until then.
There is no safe vaccine in sight before Christmas so no lifeboat there. What does all this mean for the piping and pipe band world?
On the solo front we will have the likely cancellation of all live audience events until March 2021 at least. So the Uist & Barra, Duncan Johnstone, Archie Kenneth Quaich, possibly the SPA (April), Piobaireachd Society Conference, and other solo piping events will have to be done online or not at all.
The National Piping Centre has been leading the way in online adaptation and as the first two named above come under their umbrella directly and indirectly they should have no difficulty in applying the new format as required.
London’s Bratach Gorm has already been re-scheduled for March next year but could still fall foul of ongoing restrictions. They too may have to go online or forget it until November ’21.
The Highlands & Islands in early May could be okay but I would take nothing for granted. However taking stuff outdoors from that month on is doable.
The games following later the same month, Blair Atholl etc., should be alright, and broadly speaking, I would expect all of our Highland games to be in the clear, the worry here being deficits in enthusiasm and finance. 2020 losses will have to be accounted for. Committee members may have drifted away.
If there is still a problem with indoor piping 11 months hence the Argyllshire Gathering could hold its piobaireachd and Former Winners’ events outdoors on the first day at the games park at Oban. Likewise Inverness could return to the Northern Meeting Park where many a Clasp was won in days of yore. But let’s be more positive and hope that by then we are back to normal. Being late summer surely neither of these steps will prove necessary. Surely.
Looking at a best case scenario, restrictions are lifted in March 2021. Is that enough time for the RSPBA to get everything in place for the five majors? Contracts with local authorities have been signed and are currently active. They cover all of 2021’s five championships and commitments will be honoured in full if at all possible.
But the first major at Paisley in May, staring coldly at the facts as we enter autumn 2020, does not look safe. Councillors, worried about further losses to now severely strained funds (and about residual Covid fears), may decide to cut their losses. They could order their officials to cancel or ask for a re-schedule.
The latter might be no bad thing. The band season ends too early anyway as I’ve said before. The week after Cowal for the British could be a good fit for everyone.
But what if they cancel altogether? And what if fears of a third covid wave are circulating, and the other majors, the Worlds included, are affected for a second year? Shouldn’t we have a contingency strategy which ensures there will be some sort of RSPBA band championship even if not so grand as before? It would need a viable and safe performance format and bands being prepared to play for the fun of it and out of a need to ‘do something’.
Can the Association hire a large park somewhere with relevant insurances in place? Will judges waive their fees? Will the bands give it a go? We have the trophies and no-one knows better than the RSPBA how to run a contest. Time spent now drawing this together would not be wasted. If Covid is still around next summer we might need such a contingency if we are to have any sort of band competition season.
It would be prudent to have it at the ready and that means detailed planning starting right now. Unfortunately I suspect there will be little appetite for such work. Most will be happy just to let things drift along in the hope that they take a turn for the better.
We must consider too the impact of the lockdown on teaching. Pipe playing in Scots schools is currently banned. This will probably be the position until at least next Easter. How instructors cope with that I don’t know. Internet lessons are a less than ideal substitute. I hear that in Argyll schools they’ve bought some electronic chanters so that the kids can have face to face lessons. Better than nothing I suppose.
The problem for teachers is not just confined to schools. All are in difficulties. You can’t teach blowing and tuning via a computer screen. But education is vital. We must keep faith and do what we can for our charges.
Finally, goodness knows how this continued shutdown will affect the bagpipe manufacturing and Highland supplies industries. One would hope they have enough cash in reserve to see them through; they will have welcomed the Chancellor’s various support schemes. Yet we can all do our bit for these businesses, especially those who support this magazine.
Now is the time to splash out on that new piece of kit you’ve always wanted or maybe even a new instrument. If you are a band guy, why not get a solo chanter and the reeds to go with it, the better to enjoy all that lonesome playing you’re having to do.
What about a set of bellows pipes? No covid aerosols there.
The next six months will be extremely difficult for all pipers and pipe bands. But we must not give up on our great tradition. Let’s do what we can to keep interest alive.
All the talk this year has been of our roaring back in 2021. Make that a whimper building to a gradual crescendo, full throttle probably not before 2022.